The Peoples of Utah, ed. by Helen Z. Papanikolas, © 1976
“After Escalante: The Spanish Speaking People of Utah,” pp. 437–68
by Vicente V. Mayer
Poor Mexico! So far from God and so near to the United States.
..Attributed to Porfirio Diaz
To the Spanish is owed the distinction of being the first Europeans to explore, map, and describe the area of present-day Utah. However, not until the twentieth century, and almost one hundred fifty years after the 1776 Dominguez-Escalante expedition, were their Hispanic descendants to become a numerically significant community in Utah. Chronologically, they were the last major immigrant group to establish residence in the state, parts of which together with all of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada had been the northern half of Mexico before the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.
Prior to the twentieth century, the number of Spanish-speaking inhabitants in Utah was probably small, although it is difficult to arrive at a figure. The residual trade connections between the Utah Territory and New Mexico that persisted after the Mexican-American War revolved around a traffic in Indian slaves. These were finally dissolved by the Walker War of 1853 and by Mormon opposition to the role of New Mexico traders in this enterprise.1
After 1850 it appears that only a small number of Spanish-surnamed individuals made Utah Territory their permanent home.2 There was little to attract others to Utah during this period. A Spanish-speaking community, in terms of numbers, was nonexistent, and sizeable communities were necessary to give support to Mexican Americans, who had lived in the new United States Southwest since Spanish colonial days, and to Mexican immigrants from below the revised boundaries of Mexico—an insubstantial support at best. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848) that was to ensure the Mexicans equal treatment and protection under the law, recognition of their land titles and religious rites, and the preservation of their culture, including language, was flagrantly violated. Wholesale stealing of their lands, Vigilante lynchings, peonage, and most tragically, complete disregard for the education of their children made the Spanish speaking “strangers in our own land.”3 In Utah the religious and social exclusiveness of Mormon society discouraged any significant influx of Spanish-speaking settlers, or any non-Mormon settler.
Throughout much of the West in the late nineteenth century, railroads, and especially the mining industry, acted as occupational lures to large numbers of Spanish-surnamed laborers. Mining, an important industry in Utah, early became the province of other immigrant laborers. As the Bingham Canyon mines developed in the 1880s, they began to employ Irish laborers. The Irish gave way to other immigrants from the British Isles, mainly Cornish miners. By 1890 Finns, Swedes, and Italians in turn were replacing these immigrants. After 1900 Italians, together with eastern Mediterranean and Balkan peoples (Greeks, Slavs, Croatians, and Serbs), dominated the labor ranks of the mines. A similar process was repeated in the coal mines of Carbon County during this period.4 In contrast, census records for the period 1850–1900, Catholic baptismal registers, labor rolls of the major mining areas, and newspapers of the period all confirm the dearth of any significant Spanish-speaking population in Utah.
In 1900 the United States Census listed only forty individuals of Mexican nativity living in Utah. In addition, Catholic baptismal records for the Utah diocese revealed only eleven Catholic baptisms of Spanish-surnamed children (both Mexican and Mexican American) for the decade 1900–1910.5 By 1910 the number of inhabitants of Mexican nativity had increased slightly to 166, a number undoubtedly augmented by Mexican Americans who had moved to Utah from surrounding states, particularly Colorado and New Mexico. Population estimates for this period (1900–1910) are tenuous at best. Although only a fledgling Spanish-speaking population emerges for this first decade, several small colonias appeared along the Wasatch Front in northern Utah and in southeastern Utah.
Culturally, the Spanish-speaking population of southeastern Utah, principally San Juan County, has been linked to the His pano population of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. At the turn of the century, a number of families had settled in and around the southern Utah town of Monticello. Almost all had come from northern New Mexico–from Tierra Amarilla, Coyote, Gallina, and Abiquiu. Moving to southern Utah, they found work as sheepherders and ranch hands with a small number homesteading ranches and farms of their own in the area.6 Having come from New Mexico and Colorado, they were American citizens. Their colonia contrasted with those in Ogden and Salt Lake City, whose Mexican immigrant population was much larger if not predominant.
Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants have been the two major groups making up the Spanish-speaking population of Utah, although the immigration patterns of each group have been distinct in terms of time and numbers after 1910, the beginning of the ten-year-long Mexican Revolution. During the initial years of Mexican immigration into Utah, the immigrant was often a single male, or a man who had left his wife and family behind in Mexico in order to search for work in the United States. One early member of the nascent Mexican community of Salt Lake City, Sefior Santos Cabrera recalled:
Yes, I came up from Texas in 1918, while the war was still on in Mexico, and there were very few families in Salt Lake City. A few from Old Mexico and a few from Cobrado and New Mexico, but very, very few families.., here in this area when you saw a Mexican woman, it was like seeing your mother.7
The subsequent growth of the Spanish-speaking population in Utah between 1910 and 1930 was distinguished by an increase in Mexican immigration over that from the Southwest. The immigration was stimulated by the start of World War I that reduced the numbers of European and Asiatic immigrant laborers. Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, using foreign capital, had built railroads into Mexico’s interior, and for the first time mass transportation to the American Southwest was available for millions of peons freed from rich haciendas by the revolution.
After 1910 a classic push-pull relationship developed hetween North American capital and Mexican labor. While the havoc of the Mexican Revolution stimulated the flight (push) of an estimated one million Mexicans northward, expanding economic conditions in North American agriculture and industry provided a great economic incentive (pull) for at least semi-permanent residence there.8 The vast numbers of Mexicans displaced by the Mexican Revolution quickly filled this labor vacuum. However, like their Asian and European immigrant predecessors, the Mexican introduction to life in the United States was often dreary and exhausting at best, and at its worst, exploitative and violent. Mexicans, though, met far deeper-rooted prejudice than European immigrants–instilled in Americans from the days of the Alamo and the annexation of Texas. To justify thievery of land that required the dispensing of justice, a stereotype of Mexicans as devoid of moral and intellectual worth, indolent, and of inferior culture was conjured by government officials and kept alive by fanatically prejudiced journalism. As late as the 1930s John Steinbeck would write of the Mexicans as a people inclined to sleep a great deal and to put off for tomorrow (manana) what should have been done that day.
Although prompted by economic motives, many like Senor Isidro Marrufo had come with views of America as a land of promise as well as fascination:
I [wanted] to know the United States…They used to say whoever knows Los Angeles [knows] the glory and the heaven. I didn’t want to die before I saw the glory and the heaven in person; I had that on my mind. That’s why I came to the United States…9
The increase in the size of Utah’s Spanish-speaking population did not really appear until after 1915. By 1920 inhabitants of Mexican nativity numbered 1,666, an incomplete figure representing only part of the Spanish-surnamed population.10 There are, of course, no figures for clandestine immigration that far exceeded legal admissions.
Mexican immigration into Utah between 1910 and 1920 was apparently of a secondary nature. Utah was not the primary settlement area for Mexicans who eventually entered the state. The major reason was tied to the circumstances of labor demand. Only slowly did Mexican and Mexican-American workers begin to appear in Utah’s labor force. Until 1915 mines, smelters, and railroads were still the domain of southern European immigrant labor–especially the Italians and the Greeks. This late arrival into Utah’s labor market together with the wide acceptance of the Mexican stereotype added further difficulties for the immigrants. Even though Balkan, Mediterranean, and Japanese immigrants had had to pay tribute for their jobs, they were represented by labor agents who had become influential with industrialists by providing the cheap labor they wanted. The Spanish surnamed had no agents to speak for them. Their illiteracy (35.6 percent for rural inhabitants, according to the 1930 Census) was also far greater than that of earlier immigrants and would continue to reinforce their poverty role.
A survey of the employment records of the Utah Copper Company (now Kennecott Copper Corporation) between 1908 and 1920 makes the employment pattern clear, at least for the Bingham copper mines.11 Not until 1918 and 1919 did large numbers of Mexican, Mexican-American, and Spanish miners begin to appear on Utah Copper Company’s labor rolls. One exception was the year 1912 when Utah Copper brought in hundreds of “Mexicans” (both Mexicans and Mexican Americans) as strikebreakers in the 1912 strike. However, relatively few remalned, at least in the mines, upon settlement of the strike.12
In the same year the first appointment of a Mexican consul for Utah was made in Salt Lake City. Although a possible reflection of the growing presence of Mexican immigrant labor, it is more probable that it was established in response to, or in preparation for, the sudden influx of large numbers of Mexican strikebreakers. The role and activities of the various Mexican consuls during the periods 1912 and 1920 lend further evidence to this.
For example, in 1916 the duties of the Mexican consul in Salt Lake City fell to a gentleman with the improbable name (for a Mexican consul) of E.D. Hashimoto. The appointment bruised the pride of the local Mexican community; however, that he was of Japanese extraction and in no way a Mexican national apparently bothered neither the president of Mexico nor the Utah officials.13
Hashimoto’s duties as Mexican consul were for the purpose of bringing laborers into the mines, mills, smelters, and railroads. He placed most Mexicans on railroad section gangs under Japanese foremen. During this period of immigration, Mexicans worked under other immigrant foremen, never under their own countrymen. Their entrance into Carbon County, for instance, was on a large labor gang under a Greek contractor bringing a water line through the mountains of Price Canyon into the county. The ditches were dug by hand, but because of postwar shortages, the pipe was not delivered in time and snows caved in the ditches, necessitating their being dug again in the spring. Many of the Mexicans found work in the Carbon County mines after the water line was completed.14
The payroll records of the Union Pacific Railroad clearly illustrate the growing significance of Mexicans and Mexican Americans as track laborers during the 1920s.15 As early as 1923 the payroll records of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific, show that Spanish-surnamed labor made up nearly 20 percent of the permanent track labor on the sections between Salt Lake City and Milford. As the decade progressed, their numbers increased until Spanish-surnamed individuals made up over 30 percent of the permanent track labor forces on the Utah portion of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. The temporary labor utilized on extra gangs during the busy summer months pushed the numbers of Spanish-surnamed track laborers as high as 70 percent.16 Those who were fortunate enough to work on a railroad section often shared quarters with other single men in a company bunkhouse, while those working on large extra gangs on remote stretches of the railroad lived in the cramped quarters of railroad cars.
In the northeastern part of the state, payroll records for the Union Pacific’s Wyoming Division, specifically those sections between Evanston, Wyoming, and Devil’s Slide in Morgan County, Utah, also show that many Spanish-surnamed workers were employed early in this decade. As on other Union Pacific lines in Utah, the temporary summer labor on extra gangs was composed primarily of Spanish-surnamed workers.17
The activities of later consuls, after 1920, changed considerably from that of facilitating worker importation to giving increasing attention to the needs of the Mexican community. Part of this was no doubt because of the rapid growth of the Mexican community. Between 1920 and 1930 the Mexican population grew to over four thousand inhabitants. Although the total Spanish-speaking population of Utah included a significant number of Mexican Americans, the distinguishing characteristic in this period was that it was still predominantly made up of Mexican immigrants.18
The rapid growth of the Spanish-speaking population in that decade was influenced by national events. Utah industry and agriculture, like that in other parts of the country, was faced with a steadily diminishing labor supply. World War I had temporarily shut off the traditional southern European sources that had provided cheap immigrant labor.19 After the war, the resurgence of nativism and the subsequent restrictive immigration legislation in 1921 and 1924 effectively cut off this source of immigrant labor.19 Following a pattern established earlier throughout the Southwest, Spanish-surnamed labor in Utah, especially immigrant labor, began appearing in increasing numbers in those areas traditionally open to them: agriculture, railroads, and mining.
This labor became important to an expanding sugar beet industry. In the small northern Utah farming community of Garland, an agricultural colonia appeared in response to the demand for sugar beet labor. Sixty Spanish-speaking families composed the nucleus of this colonia, which had been established in Garland in 1918. Their number was augmented in the harvest season by some one hundred fifty Mexican laborers. In the absence of such focal points of unity as the Catholic church or the Mexican consul, the Mexican residents of Garland went ahead with their own Independence Day celebrations and projects, including the building of a schoolhouse.20 There were also small colonias in other sugar beet areas of Utah, such as Delta and Spanish Fork.
Life in these colonias and in city neighborhoods was little different from life in Mexico. The nearness of their native country to the Southwest and hence to Utah made the extension of the immigrants’ language and culture into their new life a natural continuation. Japanese, Greeks, Italians, and Slavs, nationalistic though they remained in America, were cut off from their countries by thousands of miles and the Americanization of their children proceeded rapidly. Also, their stay in immigrant neighborhoods seldom exceeded two decades. Whether they left labor for business or stayed in laboring jobs, their ethnic towns dispersed and were taken over by later immigrants, mainly the Spanish speaking. The static role of the Spanish speaking in the lowest paying work kept them bound to their original neighborhoods from which few have ventured outward.
In their neighborhoods and colonias, the patriarchal society of Mexico continued. Mothers were the mainstay of the family, but fathers were the authority. Children showed deep respect for their parents. Families were close-knit with a high sense of loyalty to one another and included not only parents and children but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, and in-laws. One of the main responsibilities of the family was the chaperoning of unmarried daughters. Any hint of improper behavior on the part of girls reflected disgrace on their families and compromised their hope for good marriages. Senora Luz Solorio and Seiiora Bertha Mayer, early Salt Lake residents, recalled:
Mayer: Well, I was always with my brother. He always went along with us. If we went to the park, they were around there, Luis, or one of my brothers.
Solario:–sometimes he [my father] let me go to the show or something with my friends, and after I was a block or two away from home I thought, “Oh, I’m going by myself,” and I would start dancing because I was so glad that no one was watching me. Then I would look across the street, and my dad would be watching me. They really didn’t let you go alone or with somebody, your friends, or with anybody unless somebody was looking after you—We understood that this was the custom and that’s why we put up with it.21
Young men and women hardly had the opportunity to know each other under this kind of tradition and were often nearly strangers when they married. A marriage proposal was a solemn and formal occasion. The groom, accompanied by his parents, a priest, or a nun, made a visit to the bride’s house and asked for her hand. The answer was never given immediately and the groom had to wait an indefinite time for it. Marriages and baptisms were celebrated with an abundance of food, drink, music, and dancing. The “poet” of the colonia would sing or recite appropriate verses in honor of the occasion.
The need to come together, to be secure in the company of relatives and friends and temporarily forget the unfriendly world that surrounded them, made for a humble but active social life. Parties began spontaneously in the back of Mexican shops or in houses. Sunday was spent in visiting; there were hours of talk on summer days under the shade of trees with lemonade to drink, or, for the men, homemade wine or beer if they had the money to buy it. The oral tradition was strong among the Spanish speaking, and familiar stories were told whenever people gathered. The story of Rafael Lopez has been retold so often, he has become a folk hero.
Lopez was one of the strikebreakers brought in during the Bingham copper strike of 1912. He had been unjustly arrested, pistol whipped, and further harrassed by law officers for several weeks. Months later Lopez killed another Mexican, Juan Valdez, in a fight. Some Mexicans said that Valdez had sometime earlier killed Lopez’s brother, others that the men had quarreled over Mexican politics. Taking clothes, gun, and ammunition, Lopez walked into the snow-covered hills around Utah Lake. Four posse members followed and searched in the underbrush for him. Three shots rang out leaving three of the men dead. The fourth deputy returned to Bingham where several hundred men were organized for the search. For several days Lopez eluded them and then hid in the tunnels of the Apex mine. Guards were placed at all exits and a bale of hay was lighted at the entrance of the mine to smoke him out. Lopez fired killing one deputy and injuring another. Lump sulphur, damp gunpowder, and cayenne were then lighted at the mine entrance, and the fires kept going for five days. Ten days later deputies entered the mine, but Lopez had disappeared. How he had escaped is not known, but a myth persists among the Mexicans that he found his way to Mexico and joined the revolutionist Pancho Villa.22
Another important cultural feature the Spanish speaking brought with them was the belief in curanderismo (“folk healing”) that continues for lower income people to the present day.23 Although technically illegal and not approved by the Catholic church, curanderismo, in variant forms that have evolved from five centuries of Indian-Spanish culture, has until recently been more important in curing than the medical profession. The expense of professional medical care, language barriers, condescending attitudes of doctors and nurses, the strange environment of hospitals and clinics keep many of the Spanish speaking loyal to their folk healers. Curanderismo, also, “rarely instills the patient with hopelessness. Statements to the effect that the patient must learn to live with his pain or that medical science hasn’t conquered this disease are not made by folk-healers.24 Therefore, for many diseases from apparent physical ones to psychological ones that Anglo physicians would ridicule, such as, mal ojo (“evil eye”), empacho (“surfeit”), and susto (“fright”), the poor turn to folkhealers.
Curanderas in Utah have included a Mrs. Blanco whose cures were dependent on prayers; Incarnacion Florez, well known in Utah and surrounding states, who used prayers, ritual, and medicine until her death in 1968; and Te Valdez of Ogden who cured mainly with herbs. None of the curanderas has accepted money or advertised their services. To the poorest of the Spanish speaking, the migrants, curanderismo is especially necessary.
After 1930 migrants increasingly came to fill the demand for agricultural labor and the earlier agricultural colonias disbanded. Part of this migrant labor was made up of Spanish-speaking farm workers who lived in towns along the Wasatch Front during the winter and followed the planting and harvesting of crops through northern Utah, Idaho, and Oregon during the remainder of the year. For those migrants whose subsistence was almost solely dependent on this source of employment during the Depression, life was reduced to a grim proposition. For Senora Francis Yanez, it was an early introduction to the harsh realities of migrant life:
We started working on the farm, from the time I was about seven years old. . . . We started topping beets in the early season. You were down on your knees, like when you go to church and pray, but this was hour after hour . . . and the sun would be beating on you, and it would rain on you, and this is the kind of work we did. Of course, lots of times I’d cry, you know. . . I couldn’t understand why I had to be out there. But we were hungry, that’s the only thing our parents would tell us. “We have to do it–to feed the younger ones.”25
With the Depression both permanent and temporary Spanish-surnamed track labor was rapidly eliminated. By 1932 they had been reduced to a mere 14 out of 264 names that made up the permanent track force working on the sections between Salt Lake and Milford, a reduction undoubtedly representative of the situation on other railroad lines. To the northeast, all Spanish-surnamed labor had also been eliminated by 1932 on the sections between Evanston and Devil’s Slide.26 Jose Medel, who had begun working on Utah’s railroads in 1927, recalled this period when competition for jobs became intense:
He [the foreman] was one guy who wanted eight hours work, pulling ties–He don’t want you drinking too much water or talking, just keep working. He [would] fire men every day or every week and kept bringing new ones because we don’t have no unions.27
Despite the hardships, Jose Medel counted himself as one of the lucky ones who was able to find work during this period. Not until the beginning of World War II and the resulting manpower requirements did Spanish-surnamed track labor again become significant on Utah’s railroads.
At the beginning of the Depression, the more than four thousand Mexican residents were numerically superior to any other non-European ethnic minority. Family units had begun to be even more important in the sociological makeup of the community. Nearly a quarter of the Mexican population of four thousand in 1939 was under ten years of age.28
The growth and character (its immigrant characteristic) of the Spanish-speaking population in Utah expressed itself in the first real efforts at social mobilization and organization in the 1920–30 decade. In the early twenties, a number of temporary organizations, mainly in Salt Lake City and Ogden, had appeared and disappeared with rapidity. The majority were formed for the specific purpose of working with the Mexican consul to prepare the Mexican Independence Day celebrations of the Fifth of May and the Sixteenth of September.29 Homage was paid to the village priest Father Hidalgo who on September 16, 1810, rang the church bell to proclaim an end to Spanish rule and called his people to fight with courage and patriotism. These programs invariably included several patriotic speechs followed by a number of traditional songs and dances with participants wearing native dress. For the Mexican community, these Independence Day celebrations were important social occasions in which both children and adults actively participated. They gave opportunities to visit with old friends from other parts of the state and, more importantly, to recreate and immerse themselves in the culture of a society they had left behind.
The needs of a growing Mexican community also gave rise to other more permanent organizations. For example, a formal organization, La Cruz Azul, the Mexican Blue Cross, was also established in Salt Lake City during this period. The impetus for the organization came from the Mexican community with support from the Mexican consul. Operating as a mutual aid organization, its expressed purpose was to help the needy and indigent within the Mexican community by using initiative and resources.
With a growing contingent of Spanish-speaking mine workers and their families, the Bingham Canyon area also responded with similar organizational efforts. The most prominent organization was a mutual aid society known as the Union y Patria. Within several years the name and concept of the Bingham organization was changed to conform as a chapter of the Comision Hon orifica Mexicana, a larger, more nationally oriented organization. In Utah, as in other states, these chapters which were closely associated with the Mexican consul often came to serve as the community spokesman.30 As a mutual aid organization, the Bingham (and later Salt Lake and Ogden) chapters of the Comision assisted the entire Spanish-speaking population. However, its close relationship with the Mexican consul channeled its orientation to the interests and needs of the Mexican immigrants.
Concern for the spiritual welfare of the growing Spanish-speaking population was also noticeable in this period. In 1920 the Mormon church responded by establishing the Provisional Lamanite Branch, a fledgling missionary effort. The idea for the formation of a Spanish-speaking congregation of Mormons originated not with church officials but with three laymen, two Mexicans and a Spaniard, whose insight and efforts initiated and sustained the small branch.
The Provisional Lamanite Branch was the first organized in Salt Lake, with Margarito Bautista as its president. Later it was reorganized into the local Mexican Mission under the direct jurisdiction of the Mexican Mission of the Latter-day Saints church. Initially, the restaurant of Juan Martinez was used for the meetings of this small group. In an effort to enlarge membership, meetings were also held in Pioneer Park, a favorite point of congregation for many of the Spanish-speaking residents of Salt Lake City. Convinced of the viability of the organization, Mormon authorities finally organized it officially as the Rama Mexican a, or Mexican Branch, in 1923. Under Spanish-surnamed leadership, the initial organization of the branch included auxiliary groups such as the women’s Relief Society. Efforts were made by members of this group to begin missionary efforts among the Spanish-speaking population in the Salt Lake Valley and in northern Utah farm communities.31
By 1927 the Catholic church had also established a mission for the benefit of the Mexican community in Salt Lake City. It had evolved from an earlier mission effort among the Italian population of Salt Lake. As the neighborhood around the Italian Mission, the west side of Salt Lake City, came to be increasingly dominated by Spanish-speaking residents, the focus of the mission shifted toward that group.32
The Mexican Mission was administered for a short time in 1927 by Padre Perfecto Arellano, a Mexican priest. He was followed by two brothers, Padres Antonio and Turibio Galaviz, both singers and guitarists. Padre Turibio was also an accomplished pianist and organist. Another “Padre Mexicano” followed. In 1930 the mission was given a separate status from Saint Patrick’s Parish, from which it was administered. Officially, and appropriately, it was designated as the Mission of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, or Our Lady of Guadalupe, with Father James Earl Collins as administrator.
Under Mexican direction from 1927 to 1930, the Catholic Mission initiated various programs that included music and summer school classes for the children. Assisting these Mexican priests were Mexican nuns of the Order of Perpetual Adoration. Arriving in 1927, they began to help in the mission’s programs, three of the sisters serving for twelve years.33 While the activities of the Guadalupe Mission constituted a cultural oasis for Spanish-speaking residents of Salt Lake City, to many others the mission represented the joy of once again hearing sermons in Spanish.
The dedication of Father Collins for the mission’s people, particularly his “kids,” gave a strong identity to the mission. Father Collins was thirty-one years old when he arrived in Salt Lake City. Another later priest of the Guadalupe Parish, Father Jerald H. Merrill, as energetic and resourceful as Father Collins, wrote in “Fifty Years with a Future: Salt Lake’s Guadalupe Mission and Parish”:
For twenty-seven years the people of the mission and later the parish, saw in the figure of Father Collins their church in action and their “Lord among them.” Living in poverty—his only extravagance was the mission—Father Collins patched his suits and glued composition soles to his shoes. His salary was shared with his people.
Each year in order to visit his mother in Albany, New York, he borrowed on his insurance and repaid the loan month-by-month in the following year. He bore in silence much infuriation with the “good Catholic ladies” who tried to help but who betrayed snobbish and condescending attitudes toward the poor Spanish-speaking women with their ever-present babies and small children.34
Father Collins’s summer schools were attended by as many as two hundred fifty Mexican, Greek, Italian, Syrian, Armenian, English, Scandinavian, Irish, and “American” children a day. Religious instruction, softball and volleyball, and handicraft classes ended with cookies or other treats and a two-reeler Charlie Chaplin, Keystone Cops, or William S. Hart movie. The mission had a parish song that was sung to the music of a Mexican Marian hymn:
We’re down on Fourth South, far from luxury,
Down where the viaduct spans the D&RG
Most unpretentious, but somewhat quaint
With Guadalupe as our patron Saint.35
The years 1920 to 1930 stand out as particularly important in the history of the Spanish-speaking population in Utah. Not only was it a period of heavy Mexican and Mexican-American movement into the state but also the initial period of organization and activity on the part of this group. A sense of community cohesiveness began to appear with the Spanish-speaking community and, with activities and organizations centering around the Mexican consul, the immigrant characteristic of the population was clearly reflected.
The size of the Spanish-speaking community, the number of organizations, and their varied activities reflected a growing importance in Utah’s population in the first three decades of the twentieth century. However, this growth which had occurred primarily in the 1920s was reversed after 1930. A sharp decrease in the size of the Spanish-speaking community in Utah took place during the years of economic depression that gripped the United States in the 1930s.
Although the Depression was a period of hardship for all workers in the United States, its effect was especially harsh on Mexican labor immigrants, the Mexican American, and indeed all those people who were relegated to the lowest positions on the social and economic ladder in American society. As economic conditions became worse in the United States, Mexicans and Mexican Americans found themselves competing with Anglo workers for the dwindling number of jobs available.
One solution to this growing unemployment problem was to deport large numbers of Mexican immigrants who had come to the United States between 1910 and 1930 to fill the labor needs of the booming economy. Between 1930 to 1940 from two hundred fifty thousand to five hundred thousand Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico either voluntarily or through forced deportation. A number who were deported involuntarily were United States citizens.36
In Utah the Depression also affected the Mexican immigrants who had settled here. The 1930 Census showed that 4,012 persons of Mexican origin were living in the state. Of this number more than twenty-three hundred were born in Mexico, but by 1940 the number of Mexican-born immigrants living in Utah dropped to 1,069, reducing the Mexican immigrant population of Utah by one-half. After this marked reduction in the Mexican population in Utah, a second and larger wave of Spanish-speaking people arrived during and after the years of World War II.
The advent of World War II pulled the country out of the Great Depression, but the ensuing four years of war had particularly significant effects on the population and economy of the West. The sudden need for labor in the many war-related industries and in agriculture created a large labor shortage almost overnight. People looking for work moved quickly to those areas in the West where labor shortages existed. In Utah, for example, the rapid establishment and growth of government facilities and the need for workers was probably the single most important factor that attracted Mexican Americans from surrounding states.
The new federal supply depots in Utah, the Ogden Arsenal, the Tooele Army Depot, and the United States Naval Supply Depot in Clearfield, created a demand for labor that the Utah population could not supply. In the Ogden area alone nearly fifty-two thousand jobs were created by these government facilities during the war. This number equaled the jobs available in Utah’s agricultural industry.37
The war also brought a labor shortage to the copper mines in Bingham Canyon, coal mines in Carbon County, agriculture, and railroad companies. The plentiful employment opportunities in the region produced a rapid increase in the size of the Spanish-speaking population in Utah. Unlike the immigration of the preceding three decades, this increase was principally made up of Spanish-surnamed individuals who had moved to Utah from other states, expecially from Colorado and New Mexico. This interstate migration was increased by the active recruitment programs conducted by private industry and the federal government to fill the wartime labor needs of Utah.38
In contrast, the number of immigrants from Mexico who arrived and remained in Utah during this period was small. Census figures show that only 327 new immigrants from Mexico settled in the state between 1940 and 1950, although the census failed to record Mexicans who came to Utah to stay for limited periods as migrant labor.
During the Second World War, the labor needs were so great that the United States turned once again to Mexico for labor. Under a series of government-supervised programs, which grew out of treaties with the Mexican government, large numbers of workers were brought from Mexico to work in the United States. These Mexicans worked mainly in agriculture and on railroads in the West.39 In comparison to states such as Texas and California, Utah employed relatively few workers from Mexico. At the peak of the war in 1944, Utah agriculture employed between six hundred and seven hundred Mexicans, while a smaller number were employed by the railroads.
In addition to labor from Mexico, Utah also imported workers from Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Indeed, the establishment of a Puerto Rican community in Utah was a direct result of Utah’s wartime labor shortages. A number of Puerto Ricans, recruited to work in the copper mine at Bingham Canyon, stayed and established their homes, thus adding to the growth and variety of the Spanish-speaking community in Utah.40
In the postwar period, the distinctive characteristic in the growth of the Spanish-speaking population in Utah was its varied demographic origins. Mexican immigrant, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, South and Central American—each of these areas contributed to the growth and diversity of this population in Utah. Although bound by a common Hispanic tradition, especially in the form of language, the various national groups retained their distinctive cultural traditions. For example, the differences in the national music, dance, or food of a Mexican and a Peruvian in many cases may prove as dissimilar as those between a North American and a Mexican.
Despite the growth of the Spanish-speaking population in Utah, organizations such as the Comision Honorifica tended to decline during the war years of 1942 to 1945. This was similar to the experiences of other organizations of Spanish-speaking communities throughout the West during this period.41
However, after World War II the number of organizations of the Spanish-speaking community in Utah showed a resurgence. The Centro Civico Mexicano was organized in Salt Lake City in 1944; the Sociedad Mexican a Cuahotemoc (Mexican Lodge) in Helper in 1949, and the Sociedad Fraternal Benito Juarez in Ogden in 1952. Together with the older Comision Honorifica Mexicana and its three chapters, all remained associated with the Mexican consul in Salt Lake City and were oriented toward social and cultural activities primarily for the Mexican immigrant. In addition to the celebration of Mexican Independence days and upholding cultural traditions, these organizations continued to serve as a means by which the Mexican consul remained close to the Mexican immigrant community in Utah.
The contrast between the Spanish-speaking community before and after World War II in Utah was reflected not only in demographic origins of this population but also in the activities and goals of their organizations. The earlier organizations, such as the Comision Honorifica, the Union y Pat na, and later the Centro Civico Mexicano, were strikingly similar to those of other immigrant groups, and indeed, illustrate the immigrant experience in America.
Like other immigrant groups coming to Utah, the Spanish-speaking population had to deal with prejudice and discrimination in schools, housing, and employment. Mutual aid and fraternal organizations such as the Cruz Azul and the Comision Honorifica aided the immigrant in adjusting and coping with a new, and at times hostile, social environment. As immigrants they reconciled themselves to such social realities, although they still found such prejudicial treatment galling. This was especially true of that part of the Spanish-speaking population in Utah who were American citizens by birth and whose families had lived in the Southwest long before annexation of the area by the United States.
School experiences were bitter for Mexican and Mexican American children. They began their school days knowing little English and were immediately ostracized by other students and tolerated, ignored, and even abused by many teachers in whom the stereotype of the Mexican as inferior and unteachable was ingrained. The superiority of Anglo culture was stressed and Mexican culture was blatantly denigrated. For the sake of their children many parents identified themselves as Spanish. In the polyglot area around Helper, Utah, a common expression of those years was: “You won’t find a single Mexican in the county. They’re all Spanish.”
Children stayed in school for a few years and dropped out, with poor reading and writing skills. The negative school experiences gave rise to an anger and frustration that manifested itself in distrust of American institutions. Law enforcement officials added to the damage done to the psyche of Mexican and Mexican-American children. Any deviation from what they considered proper Anglo standards gave them license to hound and harrass. In the early 1940s the Spanish-speaking adolescent’s “ducktail” hair style and zoot suits” (wide-shouldered suitcoats, festooned with watch chains, and full, pleated trousers, tapered at the ankles) brought quick, repressive action from officers.
Because of their American citizenship, the Mexican Americans had a somewhat different perspective of Anglo-American society and their place in it. Such a viewpoint was expressed in the postwar organizations that attracted Mexican Americans in Utah.
During the 1940s and 1950s organizations were formed that reflected the presence and needs of the large number of Mexican Americans who had moved to Utah from surrounding states and who constituted a majority of the Spanish-speaking population of Utah. One of these, the Sociedad Proteccion Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (the “Mutual Protection Society of United Workers”), was organized in Ogden in 1946 by Demetrio Trujillo. The Ogden group was a chapter of a large fraternal society that had been established in Colorado in 1900. It was one of a number of similar societies throughout the Southwest that helped meet the needs of Mexican-American citizens for some form of financial security. A number of these organizations provided sickness and death benefits and in some cases life insurance.42
Another postwar organization established in Utah was the American G.I. Forum. The Forum, begun in Texas in 1947, was initially formed to help needy and disabled Spanish-speaking veterans. Quickly spreading throughout the West, the Forum oriented its activities increasingly toward civic and political action. Mrs. Molly Galvan, who was an active memher of the G.I. Forum in Colorado, was instrumental in the initial organizing efforts of the G.I. Forum in Utah.
Transplanted to Utah in the period following World War II, the Utah chapters of the American G.I. Forum mirrored the changing orientation of the Spanish-speaking community in Utah. Rather than stressing Mexican nationalism, this more than any other organization up to that time aimed at dealing with the problems of the Mexican Americans in an Anglo-American society.
Abel Medina served as the first chairman of the G.I. Forum’s Ogden chapter which was established in 1954; Larry Jaramillo headed the Salt Lake chapter, organized in 1955. The G.I. Forum immediately began to seek civic involvement. This ranged from challenging hiring practices at Hill Air Force Base to sponsoring back-to-school drives and providing scholarships in an effort to combat the high dropout rate among children of the Spanish-speaking people.43
Throughout the 1950s the activities of the G.I. Forum, the Mexican Civic Center, the Comision Honorifica, and church-related activities such as those sponsored by the Catholic and LDS churches dominated the lives of the Spanish-speaking people in the state. Although several of these groups became increasingly concerned with community affairs, the focus of these activities remained local.
The Spanish-speaking people remained in their neighborhoods, attended their churches, worked in low-paying jobs, and watched their children drop out of school with frustration but acceptance of the social order in which they found themselves. Newspapers duly noted the yearly celebrations of Mexican independence from Spain. Children, dressed in national costumes, still danced, sang, and put on plays. Patriotic speeches were given, and, as all immigrant groups did, the Spanish speaking invited public officials to address them.
But in the 1960s newspapers began giving coverage to new, aggressive activities among the Mexican and Mexican-American population. Reflecting the new activism brought on by liberal opposition to the Viet Nam War and the thrust for Black power, peaceful marches were held to present petitions asking for investigations in housing, neglect and abuse of Chicano students, lack of employment opportunities, and prejudice of law enforcement officials against youthful Chicanos. The young activists, following the Black experience, rejected the Anglo notion that their Mexican culture was inferior and began discovering and learning of their heritage: the advanced Aztec civilization, the heroic Aztec warriors led by Cuabtemoc who defended that civilization, fiercely but tragically; the Indians who never surrendered to the Spaniards; the repulsion of forces of Napoleon III in 1862; the young cadets in 1847 who held the Castle of Chapultepec against Gen. Winfield Scott’s invading American army and when overpowered draped themselves in Mexican flags and jumped to their death. It was a time of “being more Chicano than thou.”44
In Utah, activism of the Spanish-speaking community was also affected by national events. The American G.I. Forum showed a resurgence in activities and membership after a decline in the late 1950s. Other organizations appeared, but not until 1968 and the formation of SOCIO (Spanish Speaking Organization for Community, Integrity, and Opportunity) was there a broadly based statewide organization to represent the largest ethnic minority in the region.
In December 1967 a meeting was held in Salt Lake City to establish a permanent organization that could help in dealing with the economic and social problems of the Spanish-speaking community in Utah. Under the leadership of Jorge Arce-Laretta, Father Jerald Merrill, and Ricardo Barbero, SOCIO gained between four hundred and five hundred members in its first year. By 1974 membership had grown to nearly twenty-seven thousand persons with nine chapters in counties throughout Utah.45 Through activities such as these, SOCIO has come to serve as the largest, although not the only spokesman, for the interests of the Spanish-speaking population in Utah. SOCIO has also proven to be the most successful effort in organizing Utah’s largest ethnic minority and in giving voice to the more than forty-three thousand Spanish-speaking people who live in Utah today.
Commitment to the welfare of migrants is one of the priorities of SOCIO, the Migrant Council, and other related organizations. In the book Somos Chicanos: Strangers in Our Own Land, the author, a young Catholic priest who had turned away from his heritage, says:
I don’t know when I stopped thinking like a Catholic priest and became a Chicano. It was a long and complicated process, but maybe it began in Utah where I was first assigned to work. Many of the families had no choice but to settle in the dilapidated shacks and huts located in the ruins of an abandoned sugar refinery. Inside the shacks there was no running water and outside there was only a single shower unit for 200 people. The toilet facilities were crumbling wooden outhouses which most of the people were afraid to use…A few months after their return, Manuela [an intelligent, overworked girl] died from an acute and fatal form of anemia.
When the news eventually reached me, I felt like burning down the migrant camp and getting a gun to go after everyone responsible for the conditions there: The Utah and Idaho Sugar Company who owned the land the camp was on. The Mormon farmers who leased the land and allowed their hired workers to live in filth and squalor. The county health and welfare officials who did absolutely nothing to help my people.46
The history of the Spanish-speaking people in Utah is a long one that stretches back to Escalante and to the Spanish and Mexican traders who followed in the last half of the eighteenth century. Yet, at the same time it is relatively recent history…indeed, in terms of a Spanish-speaking community it is a twentieth-century experience.
This experience follows that of all immigrants, but the stigma of prejudice continues and has a longer history for the Spanish speaking whose setting out from the barrios and into Anglo life has not yet begun. It will happen, and just as the Spanish speaking followed the new immigrants from the Balkans and the Mediterranean who in turn followed the old immigrants from the British Isles Scandinavia, and northern Europe, other immigrants will follow the Mexicans and Mexican Americans and bring their distinctive cultures to face similar and yet peculiarly unique attitudes and circumstances, but in the end they will call themselves Americans.
1 Leland Hargrave Creer, The Founding of an Empire: The Exploration and Colonization of Utah, 1776-1856 (Salt Lake City, 1947), pp. 28-39; also Joseph J. Hill, “Spanish and Mexican Exploration and Trade Northwest from New Mexico into the Great Basin 1765-1853,” Utah Historical Quarterly 3 (1930): 3-23 (hereafter referred to as UHQ).
One available, if not totally reliable, source that contributes to this conclusion are the censuses of 1850, 1860, 1880, and 1890. Early references to Mexicans in Utah usually referred to the small numbers found with the army working as herders or laborers. See J. H. Simpson, Report of Explorations of the Territory of Utah for a Direct Wagon-route from Camp Floyd to Genoa, in Carson Valley in 1859 (Washington, D.C., 1876), p. 5.
3 David F. Gomez, Somos Chicanos: Strangers in Our Own Land (Boston, 1973).
4 Helen Zeese Papanikolas, “Life and Labor among the Immigrants of Bingham Canyon,” UHQ 33 (1965): 289-315; “The Greeks of Carbon County,” UHQ 22 (1954): 143-64; and Toil and Rage in a New Land: The Greek Immigrants in Utah, 2d ed. rev. (Salt Lake City, 1974), reprinted from UHQ 38, no. 2 (1970). Elroy Nelson, “The Mineral Industry: A Foundation of Utah’s Economy,” UHQ 31(1963): 179-91. 1910 Census.
5 Cathedral of the Madeleine, Baptismal Records, holograph, individual entries from January 1900 to January 1910, Salt Lake City.
6 1910 Census. Also interview with Cosine Chacon, July 15, 1973, Monticello, Utah, Chicano Oral History Project No. 3109, Slb, and Sl1l; Bill and Cleofes Manzanares, Project No. S123. Tapes and transcripts currently located at the American West Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. These will soon be transferred to the Marriott Library, University of Utah.
7 Interview with Santos Cabrera, January 4, 1971, Salt Lake City, Chicano Oral History Project No. S6.
8 Manuel Gamio, Mexican Immigration to the United States (New York 1971), pp. 23-30. See also Leo Grebler, ed., The Mexican American People: The Nation’s Second Largest Minority (New York, 1970), pp. 63-64.
9 Interview with Isidro Marrufo, March 13, 1973, Salt Lake City, Chicano Oral History Project No. 82.
10 1920 Census.
11 Employment records of Utah Copper Company 1880-1920 R. C. Gem-mel Hall, Bingham Canyon. Access to these records is possible only with permission of Kennecott Copper Corporation. For a description of Italian and South Slav labor in Bingham see Philip Frank Notarianni, “The Italian Immigrant in Utah: Nativism (1900-1925)” (M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1972) and Joseph Stipanovich, The South Slavs in Utah: A Social History (San Francisco, 1975).
12 Deseret Evening News, November 3, 1912; Deseret Evening News, November 14, 1912; Papanikolas, “Life and Labor among the Immigrants of Bingham Canyon,” pp. 294-307.
13 William Spry to Mexican government, 1912, President Carranza to Spry, 1916, Hashimoto to Spry, 1916, in Governor’s Correspondence, Box M and SE-i, 18.4, Boxes 43 and 45, Utah State Archives, State Capitol, Salt Lake City.
14 Interview with George Zeese, contractor for the water line, May 21, 1975.
15 The Union Pacific Payroll Records are presently located in the annex of the general offices of the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska. The records date only from 1923 for all UPRR divisions, including the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. These records are accessible only at the convenience of the UPRR. However, statistical summaries of representative years between 1923 and 1945 are available at she American West Center, and very shortly at the Marriott Library.
16 For example, in June of 1927, of 889 men employed as section hands between Salt Lake and Milford, 596 were Spanish surnamed. The number of permanent laborers on this section of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad throughout this decade averaged about two hundred fifty men, of whom between 35 and 45 percent were Spanish surnamed. Union Pacific Payroll Records, Fifth, Sixth, and Provo districts, January 1923 to June 1931.
17 The earliest available payroll records show that in 1925, 69 of the 187 permanent track laborers were Spanish surnamed. In June of 1926, the number of workers on the Wyoming Division rose as high as 556 out of a total 797. Until the early years of the Depression, Spanish-surnamed labor represented between 25 and 30 percent of the permanent track force and close to 35 percent of the summer labor force.
18 1930 Census.
19 John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1955), pp. 202-4, 300-330.
20 Salt Lake Tribune, June 13, 1920.
21 Interview with Bertha Mayer and Luz Solorio, July 13, 1972, Bountiful, Utah, Chicano Oral History Project No. 542 and S43.
22 See Thomas Arthur Rickard, The Utah Copper Enterprise (San Francisco, 1919), pp. 42–43 and Vicente V. Mayer, Jr., Utah: A Hispanic History (Salt Lake City, 1974), pp. 50-51.
23 See E. Ferol Benavides, “The Saints Among the Saints; A Study of Curanderismo in Utah,” UHQ 41 (1973): 373–92.
24 lbid., p. 392.
25 Interview with Francis Yanez, May 21, 1971, Salt Lake City, Chicano Oral History Project No. S-5.
26 Union Pacific Railroad Payroll Records, Fifth, Sixth, and Provo districts, January 1923 to 1931; also Wyoming Division, January 1925 to June 1945.
27 Interview with Jose Medel, October 9, 1970, Salt Lake City, Utah Chicano Oral History Project No. 51.
28 Cathedral of the Madeleine, Baptismal Records, January 1921 to December 1927; 1930 Census.
29 Salt Lake Tribune, September 17, 1920. Interview with Louis Amador, Salt Lake City, December 8, 1970, Utah Minorities No. S4; Interview with Maria Luz Solorio and Bertha Mayer, Salt Lake City, July 13, 1972, Utah Minorities No. S42; Interview with Ellen Cordova, Salt Lake City, June 15, 1973, Utah Minorities No. S 7; Interview with Jesus Avila, Lark, Utah, May 6, 1973, Utah Minorities No. S99.
30 The Comision was originally established in Los Angeles in 1921 by the Mexican consul there, Eduardo Ruiz. Its original purpose was to assist Mexican nationals until consular aid could be obtained. Matt S. Mier and Feliciano Rivera, The Chicanos (New York, 1972), p. 239. See also Avila interview and interview with Filomena Ochoa, Midvale, Utah, July 1972, Utah Minorities No. S34 and No. S35, pp. 22–23. Further information on both Bingham organizations, the Union y Patria and the Comision Honorifica Mexicana, can be found in a collection of organizational consular documents (correspondence, meeting minutes, budgets, and organization rosters, etc.) now kept at the American West Center.
31 Betty Ventura, “La Historia de Ia Rama Lucero” (“The History of the Lucero Wards”), manuscript, Lucero Ward, Salt Lake City; also, Mexican Branch; Priesthood Minute Book, 1922. See also manuscript, “Brief History of the Mexican Branch of the Mormon Church in the Salt Lake Valley,” and Paul Morgan and Vicente Mayer, “The Spanish Speaking Population of Utah: From 1900-1935,” Toward a History of the Spanish Speaking People of Utah, Mexican American Documentation Project, American West Center, 1973, Western Americana, Marriott Library.
32 Jerald H. Merrill, “Fifty Years with a Future: Salt Lake’s Guadalupe Mission and Parish,” UHQ 40 (1972) : 246.
33 Ibid., pp. 249-50. Also Solario and Mayer interview.
34 Ibid., p. 251.
35 Ibid., p. 254.
36. Meir and Rivera, The Chicanos, pp. 161-62. See also, Leo Grebler, ed., The Mexican American People (New York, 1970), p. 526.
37 Leonard J. Arrington and Thomas G. Alexander, “They Kept ‘Em Roll. ing: The Tooele Army Depot, 1942-1962,” UHQ 31 (1963): 11-12, and “Supply Hub of the West: Defense Depot Ogden, 1941-1964,” UHQ 32 (1964) :99.
38 National Archives, Records of the War Manpower Commission, Record Group 211, Utah Es. 533.15, Box 3, 1943, (memos, telegrams, etc.), Washington, D.C.
39 National Archives, Records of the War Manpower Commission, Record Group 228, Box 409, Division of Review and Analysis. (Mexican laborers folder).
40 National Archives, Records of the War Manpower Commission, Record Group 211, Box 1, War Food Administration, Office of Labor. Also, Record Group 228, Box 409, Mexican laborers folder. Also, Record Group 211, Box 3-1533, Memorandum from John E. Gross, “Utah Stabilization.”
41 Mier and Rivera, The Chicanos, p. 244.
42 For example, La Sociedad Proteccion Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos served not only as a fraternal organization, but offered life insurance to its members. Jose Timoteo Lopez, La Historia de la Sociedad Pro teccio de Trabajadores Unidos (New York, 1958). See also, interview with Cirino Chavez, July 27, 1974, Utah Minorities No. 5166.
43 In Utah, the GI. Forum did not establish a chapter until 1954 wben one was begun in Ogden under the organizing leadership of Molly Galvan. GI. Forum News Bulletin, October 1954; also the issues of January 1955 and August 1955.
44 Salt Lake Tribune, November 30, 1971.
45 Interview with Father Jerald H. Merrill, Salt Lake City, November 27, 1971, Utah Minorities No. 12A, 12B, and 12C.